Brionne Davis, star of Embrace of the Serpent, is one of my favorite rising star clients.
I sat down with Brionne to get the inside scoop on making Oscar-nominated films, going into the film festival and awards circuits, and making the Business of Acting work for him.
Embrace of the Serpent went on to win the prestigious Cannes Director’s Fortnight Art Cinema Award, several international film festival awards, and a 2015 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
In Part 1 of this case study, Brionne gives us the skinny about Cannes premieres, the unbelievable, resourceful way he got to Cannes, and being exactly where you’re meant to be.
Josh: Congratulations on all the glowing reviews and attention that Embrace of the Serpent has had! From Cannes to the Oscars, it’s such a fantastic story.
Brionne: Thank you! Of course, the funny thing is, when all of it was starting, I was depressed.
Making the film was a big part of my life for a long time. And then I didn’t have it. So I let myself go through that. I let myself be down about it. And then once my body was ready to be ready, I told myself, “I’m open now to the next thing, whatever that is.”
And that’s about when the director emailed me. He said, “I have good news. You can’t tell anybody. But we got into Cannes. It’s parts of the Directors’ Fortnight. It’s a very prestigious part of Cannes.” Oh my God! So I knew that was a big deal.
But I instantly started Googling Cannes Director’s Fortnight and going through what it really was. I knew it was a big deal, but all the details about it I didn’t know. So I googled a couple years past and the other films that are on the Directors’ Fortnight…
Josh: They are pieces of art.
Brionne: Yes. And those films always go off to do really well internationally. And they’ll make it to Amazon or Netflix down the road. And I couldn’t say anything to anybody!
Finally the director said, “Okay. They’re going to announce it in 20 days. So you can tell people in 20 days.” And I’m sitting on my hands going, “Fuck. I know this information and I can’t tell anyone? Are you kidding me?”
Right around then I picked up a job thinking, “Okay. I just have to make money to go to Cannes for this. I’ve got to figure out how to go.” I’m looking up plane tickets realizing, “Fuck, how am I going to make this much?”
So I’m going to every audition with the intention of having fun. I was telling myself “I’m going to book this. I love this. I love all these commercials. I’m going to book every one of them” … and just nothing. I was getting called back. I was on avail for two of them, but nothing.
Everybody in my circle was telling me, “You’ve got to go. You’re going. You’re going. You’re going.” And I’m thinking, “Okay. But how? How was that going to happen?”
But inside of me, I knew that I was going. I just didn’t know how. So I just let go of the how, and I said, “Okay. If I’m supposed to go, I’m going to find a way.”
Around this time a friend of mine was shooting a short film. He wanted me to play a role, but he couldn’t afford to pay me. It was a fun role and I believed in the story that he was telling.
So I volunteered to play the role, which I don’t normally do. And while on set that day, the sound designer said, “You know, you should use GoFundMe.”
So that night, I looked up GoFundMe.
I was like, “Holy Shit. I can just do this right now.” It doesn’t have an approval period, nothing. There’s GoFundMe’s for liver transplants, or like, I need a new leg. But then there’s also just, “I want to go on vacation.” There are all these different kinds of GoFundMes.
So I meditated that night. I didn’t want it to come across as selfish. There was some pride to work around.
I was still thinking, “Okay, I’m starring in this feature film that’s going Cannes. But I can’t afford to get myself there. What’s that going to look like?” And then, I let go of all that exterior stuff.
Josh: So, you have to look at it to let it go?
Brionne: Yes, exactly. And I had to address all of those things.
In the meditation, I thought, “I’m going to be on the other side of this at some point in my life, and realize I didn’t do everything that I possibly could have done. If I don’t do this option that is presented to me and at least try, knowing I probably could have gone, I will have to say, well, I just didn’t have the money.”
Which my whole philosophy on life is you don’t need the money. I mean you do, but money is not the thing that’s going to prevent you from getting to your purpose.
So I meditated more on it and realized, “You know what, I can’t imagine myself being here doing a stupid job when a film that I’m starring in is going in Cannes.” So that was the end of it. I was like, “I’m going to do this.”
Josh: It sounds like you just got determined, and there was only one option?
Brionne: I considered all the angles, all the possibilities. I considered everything. It just felt right to do this.
All my friends were saying “you’ve got to go.” OK, put your money where your mouth is. So that night, I created the GoFundMe. The next morning, I got up and meditated on it again. I did some editing, and then I sent it out and published it on Facebook.
The first day, I made $700. By the fourth day, I had gotten my goal! And then people kept putting money in. So I had $3500 within four days to go to Cannes.
And the emails that were being sent from all over the world were so amazing.
Like this acquaintance of mine that I only know through Facebook in Germany sent 20 bucks. People were writing things like, “We’ve been watching your career. We so appreciate you. You’re an inspiration.” All these emails were coming to me saying, “Brionne, you’re amazing. I can’t believe it. The second you went filming in the Amazon, we thought we’d never see you again! But now, here it is. It is going to be at Cannes.”
So I did it.
And I learned – and I think you and I had discussed this before, but it really came through in this experience – what generosity is and being able to live in abundance.
Friends of mine who were giving , they’re not wealthy. But one of them gave me 100 bucks. She’s an actress, too, she’s got a regular job.
But I learned that in order to give in abundance, you have to have abundance.
There’s a lot of abundance that I have. Money was not the most abundant thing that I had. But I’ve also realized in this process that I’ll just figure out the rest.
So that’s what I did, and that was a gesture of abundance. I also learned that, all my life I’ve just told myself, “Okay, I have what I need. So I don’t need more than that. I don’t deserve more than that.”
All that stuff we’ve talked about, that old idea that it’s harder for the rich man to get into heaven than a camel to get through the eye of a needle. And all those people saying money is the root of all evil, my childhood living in feast and famine, and being afraid of money.
The most powerful thing in my head had been that if I have it, then it’s just going to end up going away inevitably.
I really learned that this time. And now, my powers are shifting. When I went to Cannes, my body started to unfreeze. The feelings were already saying, “Okay, this is success. This is good. This is all you need.” So I’m feeling that now, I want more. I want more. I want more.
Josh: You’re ready for more.
Brionne: I am 100 percent ready for more.
Josh: So tell me all about the experience of Cannes!
Brionne: Cannes was amazing. Everything about it was stunning. The people are so beautiful. Like, everyone was beautiful!
The highlight was the premiere. We had the press screening at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. I arrived on Wednesday to get adjusted and Thursday was full of interviews and press.
I hadn’t seen the film yet! The film team don’t go to the press preview, but we go in afterwards for the Q&A. So I still hadn’t seen it.
Josh: So you’re being asked questions about a film you haven’t seen.
Brionne: It’s crazy. And I only answered one question because Ciro [Guerra, the director] was speaking in Spanish. The other two guys were speaking in Spanish. The translator was translating into French. And then I spoke in English. So the Q&A was very laborious actually.
So that night was the premiere. We walked into this auditorium, they take us around to the back of the stage and they bring us out on stage to introduce us. And then we take our seats in the middle of the audience. There is a huge balcony above.
This place feels huge, hundreds and hundreds of people, and we sat in the middle.
Then the film started, and I’m opening myself up because I have no idea what to expect. I don’t even know if this is going to be good. I don’t know anything.
Josh: Granted it is at Cannes, so it’s probably okay…
Brionne: Right? And, it was … beautiful.
The music and the sound, everything that’s going on just takes you in. And I’m realizing, “Holy shit. This is phenomenal from the get-go.” It was a spiritual experience getting to watch it with everyone there.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. I had two more interviews that day but most everything else was done.
I was walking around Cannes realizing, “This has all been a gift from the universe. This is all been the universe saying thank you for holding on. Thank you for believing in yourself. And thank you for holding true to who you are. Thank you for not being an asshole. And just thank you.”
And yeah, I’ve worked hard.
I see this film and I think, “This is everything that I’ve worked my ass off to do as a human being, as an actor. This is my signature. This is part of my legacy.” I was just saying how grateful how I was, and grateful and grateful and grateful.
This whole experience from the universe I accepted and I said, “Thank you.”
And then, it was almost like I was orchestrating my life.
I thought to myself, “Now, I want to go to two red carpet events. Now, I want to go this, and that.” And so I started getting phone calls, “Can you do this? Can you do that?” And I want to have a really nice dinner, where should I go? Everything just presented itself.[Brionne went on to represent Embrace of the Serpent at film festivals throughout North and South America.]
Josh: One of my favorite Rumi quotes is: “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor!”
Brionne: Exactly. And it’s like being an actor. You do the work, you get yourself ready, you prep, you go to the gym, you do your studying, you do your reading, you do your observation, and then you set yourself up, you take a risk, you go in for the interview, and they either accept you or they don’t.
You clear your head of all the fear and then you just walk off the set and you live your life. Whatever happens, happens. Because the universe wants you to do good.
Josh: I love it.
Brionne: This whole experience has been proof of that.
Check out Parts 2 and 3 in this case study series:
Leave a comment below about your journey to festivals, and finding a way to make the Business of Acting work for you.